Monday, August 24, 2009

Charles Wesley - Reflections 1

I am half way through the biography on Charles Wesley. It has been a refreshing and delightful read. As the writer of between 6,000 and 9,000 hymns and sacred poems Tyson appropriately describes Charles as providing "the soundtrack for the eighteenth century transatlantic revivial." (viii) Charles wrote a hymn for everything it seems. Tyson nicely weaves the hymns throughout the book providing the occasion for their writing. Of the two brothers Charles was more reserved and often lived in the shadow of his older brother John. Charles also tried harder to "keep the movement firmly rooted in the Church of England" though both are described as "ardent Anglicans" (x-xi). He was a man of frail health, having been born prematurely, but excelled by the grace of God in the work of his service. Charles was extremely humble. His sermon editor said that he "not only acknowledged and pointed out but delighted in the superiority of another, and if there was ever a human being who disliked power, avoided pre-eminence, and shrunk from praise, it was Charles Wesley." (7 &173) He also had his faults. He had a temper and was quite often impatient with many of the lay preachers of the early Methodist movement. He often "fired them as quickly as John hired them." (x & 81-82).

Two of the most interesting chapters were on "The Snare of Stillness" and "The Poison of Calvin." I will cover the Stillness doctrine today and "The Poison of Calvin" in a later post. In 1739 a controversy broke out over the issue of "stillness." Stillness was a thought associated with the English Moravians. As John Wesley described it the Moravians did not want anything to do with what is traditionally called the "means of grace." He says they simply "wait for Christ and be still." "Not to go to church; not to communicate, not to fast, not use so much private prayer, not to read the Scriptures . . . not to do temporal good, not to attempt doing spiritual good." (86) The Moravians thought that these outward expressions could be a "hindrance to inner piety--if one depended upon them for their salvation." (84) Some of Charles' closest friends were drawn into this and it strained more than one dear friendship. One of those was John Bray. Bray was instrumental in "Wesley's evangelical conversion" and so held a close place in the heart of Wesley. (91) At first both brothers, but especially Charles, thought some sort of union might be possible but these illusions were quickly dissipated. The lessons of this controversy were important and helped shape the priorities of early Methodism. Tyson summarizes it well:

"The 'stillness controversy' taught the Methodist movement the value of its Anglican roots. It would have been easy enough to go with the 'still ones' down the road that led to a more private and more radical evangelical faith. But this controversy showed how deeply the Methodists were tied to the Anglican 'means of grace,' and how deep their desire was for 'social holiness' that made a difference in the world around them. The controversy refined the Methodists' commitment to spiritual disciplines, the Lord's Supper, and the importance of good works as fruits of their justification. In part as a result of this controversy the 'means of grace' became enshrined in all the formative documents of the Methodist societies, classes, and bands. And the Methodists continued to be committed to an Anglican understanding of the Lord's Supper. Their practical theology about 'the means of grace' was hammered out and set in place in the context of their emphasis upon sanctification and Christian perfection." (97)


Terry said...

Thanks for sharing with us your gleanings from this interesting book. I particularly look forward to your next post. I have been struck by how wonderfully Calvinist (at least, monergist) many of Charles Wesley's hymns were, so it will be interesting to hear him speak directly concerning Calvinism.

Louis said...


Thanks for the comment. Charles, however, would be shocked to read it. He had a revulsion to Calvinism and branded it a "hellish blasphemy." My full post will be up on Wednesday. Stay tuned.